Downtown Turlock has seen a lot of changes over the past 12 years. Once a quiet area of town that housed mostly professional services, today downtown Turlock is one of the hottest night spots in the area and shoppers flock to the unique retail boutiques and restaurants during the daytime. Throughout all the changes one thing has remained a constant — Calafia welcoming visitors to downtown Turlock.
Calafia is the 14-foot fountain statue that stands on the corner of Main and Market streets. Adorned in festive colors, she is a representation of the mythical Amazon queen and is supposed to symbolize this area’s connection to the soil and its agricultural vitality. The statue — a bronze and ceramic sculpture/fountain — was created by Davis artist Donna Billick. Calafia had her unveiling in June 2005, and has been an iconic part of downtown Turlock ever since.
The public art piece was part of the Downtown Revitalization Plan, which saw the City of Turlock invest $7.5 million into transforming the rundown business district into the picturesque downtown area it is today complete with old-fashioned lampposts, park benches and planter boxes brimming with flowers.
Lisa McDermott, current director and curator of the Carnegie Arts Center, was the City of Turlock Arts Facilitator back when the City and a downtown advisory group put the call out for artist submissions to create the public art piece.
“That location, where Main and Lander come together, was identified as the gateway to the downtown and a significant spot,” said McDermott.
Four finalists were selected to create models of their proposed work, and after much discourse and public input, Billick and Calafia were chosen.
McDermott said that what many on the committee — and ultimately the Turlock City Council — liked about the statue was how it reflects Turlock’s history and community.
“(Billick) came to Turlock and chatted with business owners and asked them what made Turlock a special place. She kept hearing about the agricultural history. On the sculpture is depicted all the ag commodities that have been grown in Turlock over the years. She used the mythical figure of Calafia to represent California and Turlock’s centralized place in the state,” said McDermott.
“We also liked the idea of the water fountain, the water bringing life to the sculpture with movement and sound, but also what it represents for the land — producing the abundance that we have.”
The committee did ask for one change from Billick’s original proposal. The Amazon queen’s crown was changed to a large-brimmed hat, taking away the regal aspect of the piece while also representing the farm workers of the area.
From the moment Calafia took up residence in downtown Turlock, she has provoked strong reactions. While many find her stately beauty and ag-inspired dress welcoming, others have a negative opinion of Calafia and her location.
In 2012, the Turlock Arts Commission considered a number of alternate locations for the statue following a request by Matt Swanson who had just purchased the Enterprise Building, which is immediately adjacent to Calafia. Swanson told the City at that time he felt the statue’s size overwhelms the building and draws attention away from potential businesses that might locate there.
The Arts Commission ultimately voted to recommend the statue not be relocated.
“The art piece Calafia located on Main Street in downtown Turlock should stay in its original location as it was intended,” wrote TAC members in their recommendation. “We feel that yielding to a property owner’s request could subject public art to the discretion of individual property owners’ tastes and desires, and would erode the original purpose and goals of the Downtown Plan.”
Swanson began renovations on the historic Enterprise Building a year ago, with plans to modernize the interior, restore the exterior to its original 1900's look, while also developing the second story space. It’s unknown at this time if Swanson will try and get the statue moved again.
The City of Turlock hasn’t received a request to move Calafia, according to Director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities Allison Van Guilder.
Jeani Ferrari, who was a member of the advisory committee that helped select Calafia for the downtown, not only wants to keep the Amazon queen right where she is but is also hoping to give the statue a spring cleaning. She recently sent a letter to the City Manager requesting the City look into cleaning and restoring the gateway statue, possibly through the help of partnerships with private and nonprofit organizations.
While Turlockers may have mixed opinions about Calafia, the statue has gained some notoriety in the area and is the focus of many art student projects.
Turlock artist Claudia Silva-Doo was on a guided hike of the Path of the Padres, outside of Los Banos, when the park ranger used a photo of Turlock’s Calafia statue in his talk about the history of California.
When she was teaching Art Appreciation at Modesto Junior College, McDermott said she often received student papers on the Turlock statue.
“When they stopped to think about what she represented, the papers elicited were always the most engaged. The students had a lot to think about, a lot to talk about,” she said. “It’s important to me as an art historian, as a curator, as teacher…Art isn’t just about what you want to hang above your couch in your living room.